Friday, December 2, 2011

Kiss & Tell Promo Tour: Karen McCullough - Magic, Murder & Microcircuits

Info for Karen McCullough


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A powerful wizard with a physics degree and a checkered past invents a shield to ensure he'll never again be tortured almost to death…

The wizarding powers-that-be fear the repercussions of such a device and send his former girlfriend, an accomplished wizard herself, to retrieve the device or destroy it…

When the shield is stolen by the magical mafia, Ilene McConnell and Michael Morgan have to set aside their differences and work together to recover it. Michael claims he needs the device as insurance against the kind of injury and injustice he suffered once before. Ilene maintains its potential to upset the delicate balance of power makes it too dangerous and that it needs to be destroyed. But none of that will matter if they can’t retrieve it before a ruthless, powerful wizard learns how to use it for his own ends.


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Author bio:

Karen McCullough is the author of ten published novels in the mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy genres and has won numerous awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy. She’s also been a four-time Eppie finalist, and a finalist in the Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards contests. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications in the fantasy, science fiction, and romance genres. Her most recent releases are MAGIC, MURDER AND MICROCIRCUITS, a paranormal romantic suspense now available in most electronic formats, A GIFT FOR MURDER, published in hardcover by Five Star/Gale Group Mysteries, and the re-released ebook of A QUESTION OF FIRE. She invites visitors to check out her home on the web at and her site for the Market Center Mysteries series,

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Excerpt #1

Chapter 1

Ilene smelled magic as she drove onto the bridge—a combination that included scents of sandalwood and nutmeg plus a sharper tinge of ozone. Michael’s magic. The aroma roused a trail of memories and evoked the same visceral reaction now that it had twelve years ago. Her pulse sped up and her stomach twisted with longing. Stupid, stupid. She was over him. Had been for years.
She sniffed again, more deeply, as a subtle wrong note in the smell penetrated her awareness. A fainter aroma of burnt coffee grounds mingled in. That wasn’t Michael’s magic, but there shouldn’t be another wizard on the island.
She glanced up through the windshield. Hazy, yellow-orange streaks of warding floated above. Michael’s scrying system. Could it identify her specifically or did it just warn him that someone with power approached? How would he react if he did know it was her? Throw her off the island, most likely, and tell her not to come back.
She planned to stay only long enough to deliver the letter from her father and get the information the Council needed, anyway.
A group of cyclists peddled ahead of her on the bridge, dragging her attention back to the road while she negotiated around them. The bikers all had packs hooked to their bikes and strapped on their backs. They spread out across more than half of the two-lane width. They had to be sweltering in the August North Carolina heat, but they waved cheerfully as she passed them in the left lane.
At the crest of the bridge she caught a glimpse of her destination.
She’d been told Michael Morgan’s home was the largest house on the island and sat on the only piece of high ground. The hulking Victorian-style mansion fit the bill on both counts. No light-colored paint or gingerbread trim softened its stolid proportions, harsh angles, and weathered-dark cedar siding. The place would make a perfect setting for one of those old-fashioned Gothic romances she occasionally picked up in a used bookstore.
Of course, no one but another wizard would see the colorful swirls of magic drifting around it. She could only spare time for a quick glance around, but it was enough to find the signs of a different power in the shading of green to the south.
She lost sight of both house and olive streaks as she headed down toward land. Enormous, twisted live oaks, bearded with Spanish Moss, lined the road, interspersed with the occasional Palmetto palm. Modest, low houses stood well back from the pavement behind the trees. They lazed indifferently in the sweltering heat and humidity, not feeling the prickle of the warding magic that sensed her.
Seconds later a different wave of magic hit her.
More accurately, it slammed into her Toyota as a gale-force wind, sending it veering off to the left, almost into the front yard of the closest house. Fortunately her reflexes clicked in before her brain could recover from the shock. She twisted the wheel and barely missed a Palmetto palm whose leaves sat still and calm except where the breeze of the car’s passing made them flap. Just when she thought she’d regained control, the wind struck again, from the opposite side, and she struggled to keep the car from rolling off the other way.
Turbulent air changed direction from moment to moment, pushing the car one way and then another in an erratic pattern. For some moments Ilene could only clutch the steering wheel, fingers digging into the leather surface, holding on tightly to keep it steady. The tires lost traction and started to skid. She turned into it, allowing her to regain control just before she hit the nearest live oak. Her door scraped against a low branch as she swerved back onto the pavement. The force continued to batter at the car, however, pushing it to the left even as she fought to keep it in the right lane.
This was some kind of welcome to the island. Maybe Michael did recognize her. This magic didn’t smell like his, but it had been twelve years…
With hands locked tightly on the steering wheel, she tried to get a feel for the power assaulting her, seeking a way to block it or turn it aside. She gathered her own power to answer until she realized she dared not pull enough of her concentration away from controlling the car.
The vehicle veered into the other lane and began to fishtail.
Someone really didn't want her on the island. The Toyota did a one-eighty, ending up moving in the opposite direction, back toward the inlet and the bridge. Seconds later, the span loomed ahead. The pack of cyclists was just rolling off it, coming toward her, spread out across the road.
A driveway ahead offered a place to turn around, but as she braked to swing into it, another blast of force jolted the car, and the tires lost traction again. The Toyota began to slide along the pavement at an angle. Panic sucked all the air from her lungs when she realized the cyclists were dead ahead.
Ilene glanced around wildly, fighting to stay calm. She had only an instant to make a choice.
She swung the wheel to right. It took an agonizing moment before the tires gripped and held. The Toyota jounced off the road, across a shallow ditch. She braked as hard as she dared, leaning into the steering. A sharper turn and she might just get past the huge live oak looming too close ahead.
“Oh, damn, damn, damn. God help me,” she muttered as the car headed for the tree. She stood on the brake and rolled the wheel as far as it would go to the right. Not enough room.
The next few minutes blurred. A jarring thud accompanied a series of bangs and scrapes as the car’s front left corner hit an enormous limb of the tree. Ilene snapped against the seat belt. The air bag smacked her in the face. Metal groaned, bent, and shrieked as it scraped other pieces. Parts crunched and banged against each other. Glass and plastic shattered, spraying shards that clattered to the ground.
And then it was quiet. Too shocked to move, she lay against the wheel and the deflating air bag. Her heart pounded furiously, but she couldn’t seem to draw any oxygen into her tight chest. It took a few panicky moments to fill her lungs again.
Ilene lifted her head gingerly. That seemed to work, so she tried fingers and toes. All wiggled on demand, although the effort brought a sharp pain in her ribs. She hoped they were just bruised and not cracked or broken. An experimental deep breath made her gasp and hold herself very still against the knifing pain.
Noises outside the car distracted her. A group of helmeted cyclists tugged at the driver's side door. The crumpled front must have messed up the frame, though. They couldn't get it to budge.
Someone yanked open the passenger side door and leaned in. Ilene twisted her head to look at the man. Not one of the cyclists. He wore a short-sleeved blue work shirt and no helmet. Forcing her neck to bend a bit more, she met the gaze of the most beautiful eyes she'd ever seen. Thready spokes of blue, in shades varying from deep navy to almost silver, wove together and meshed as they radiated from dark pupils. Another sort of shock jolted through her. They were familiar eyes, though it had been twelve years since she'd last seen them. "Michael!" It came out as half gasp, half exclamation.
"Are you all right?" he asked. His voice rasped along her nerves, just the way it used to when she was fifteen and he seventeen. There was a harder edge there now.
"I think so."
"Can you move your legs?" he asked.
"Yes." She shifted her left leg. “Damn, it hurts. Not broken, though.”
One of the cyclists interrupted. "I'm a paramedic. Let me check her out. Has anyone called 911?”
"Don't bother," Michael said while yielding his place on the passenger seat to the cyclist. "The only ambulance headed up to Danboro fifteen minutes ago. It’ll take it an hour or so to get back here. If we can move her, I'll take her to the hospital. I'll call someone to take care of the car also."
The paramedic asked her a bunch of questions and ran his hands over her legs and arms, along her neck, and down her sides. Ilene felt strange, almost distant from the scene, reluctant to move and indifferent to everything but the fact that Michael was there.
His rapid arrival surprised and worried her. Had he been responsible for the wind that caused the accident? She'd known he wouldn't be happy to have her on the island. But he'd responded to her arrival even faster than she'd anticipated. Why was he being helpful now? Because there were witnesses?
The paramedic finished looking her over and checking for damage. "I don't think anything's broken. Do you want to try to get out?"
Ilene nodded, but her aching ribs made it difficult to slide across the seat. The young cyclist assisted her until she could swing her legs down to the ground.
Michael waited nearby as she tried to stand.
"You sure know how to make a girl feel welcome," she told him, though the effect was ruined when she gulped on the last word. Her stomach lurched. Darkness gathered at the periphery of her vision, expanding rapidly.
Arms went around her shoulders and hips. Before the darkness claimed her completely, she felt herself being lifted and pressed against a masculine chest.


Excerpt 2:

The sky was a livid black-purple. The force of the wind continued to increase. Gusts shook the house, the ones Michael hadn’t turned away.
“Damn and double-damn,” Michael said. “Twister coming. I don’t— Crap!”
His hand slid along the other man’s arm, until all that held Jim up were their intertwined fingers and her disintegrating cushion of air.
She had to do something fast.
“Brace yourselves,” she shouted over the roar of the storm. “I’m going to push.” The handyman looked up at her with pleading eyes.
If their attackers could use the storm, so could she—she hoped. She had to wait a few agonizing seconds for a gust coming toward them at just the right angle.
In her head, riding on her own power, she hopped aboard the gust of air that was probably moving at more than sixty miles an hour. The last time she’d tried this it had been like riding a surfboard, rough until you caught the top of it and then you could glide along smoothly. Of course, that had been a calm day with just a gentle breeze, and it had still taken so much energy out of her she’d ended up napping for several hours afterward.
This was more like trying to stay on a bucking bronco. The wind twisted and bumped and rolled beneath her. Exhilarating in its way, but taking every bit of energy she could find to stay with it and guide it. Fortunately she only had to remain in control for a few seconds.
Using the power of her will alone, she nudged the gust to take aim right on the handyman’s rear end, with an upward motion that should bring him straight into the window.
“Now!” she yelled, the word a cue to herself and a warning to Michael.
She guided the gust of wind into Jim, trying to take him on the legs and backside and lift him. She rode with it as his body rose, adjusting the force to the right angle to push him inside, shoving hard, then trying to restrain it and brake once he was mostly within. It still slammed him into the room with too much force. The handyman shot through the window, crashing into Michael and knocking them both backwards. Ilene released the wind and gasped as something hit her with enough force to send flashes of light swirling in her vision. She fell backwards.
She didn’t see what happened next, though she felt the house rattle as the two men hit the far wall. By then she, too, was on the floor. Jim must have kicked her in passing as he was propelled into the room. Fortunately—sort of—he’d caught her thighs and not the bruised ribs.
The gust she’d used retained force enough to overturn an armchair and take most of the remaining books off the shelves before it wore itself out.
Ilene struggled to her feet, gasping as her bruised ribs protested. She’d rather have stayed where she was for a bit, but too many other things were happening.
“Ilene!” Michael called her name.
She looked up and saw him disentangling himself from the other man. Crossing the room to them involved batting away papers that flew into her face, dodging books and other debris flying around the area. Something hard hit her knee, stopping her for a moment. She got to the men just as Michael lurched to his feet.
“Help me shield,” he said, the words more curt order than request. He glanced quickly at the handyman, who was also rising, and Mrs. Wendall, who’d watched the whole thing. “Downstairs,” he told them. “Twister coming. Guest bathroom.”
Ilene didn’t see if they went. The roar of the still-rising wind outside and the gusts rattling furniture around her warned of increasing danger. She immediately began to concentrate on warding off the storm, which also meant fighting whatever powers were using it to attack.
Michael took her hand, led her to the most sheltered corner of the room, and pulled her down to sit beside him with their backs against the wall. He positioned himself so that he bore the brunt of the wind’s battering. Despite the circumstances, she couldn’t help a brief shudder of awareness of his hip and shoulder touching hers. She’d once loved this man so much it had nearly killed her when he’d disappeared.
He used their joined hands as a conduit to touch her power with his.
“You think we’re better at this now?” she asked.
“We’d better be.”
They’d tried this once as teenagers. The flow of their mingled power had quickly grown beyond what either of them expected or could control. In their clumsiness, they’d nearly caused a serious wreck on a major highway nearby. The results had frightened them so much they’d never done it again.
They hadn’t talked about it, so she didn’t know if another feature of that joining had scared him as much as it did her. The intimacy of it had gone beyond even their tentative touches of each other’s bodies. There had been seconds when she felt she was inside him and knew him in ways people weren’t meant to know each other. Bits of his memories and feelings knocked at her brain, which wasn’t ready to accept or process them.
When she felt the tentative nudge of his mind against hers, she shielded against the intrusion into her mind, leaving just enough opening to let his power mingle with hers and his understanding of the situation to penetrate.
A tornado bore down on them, and lightning still threatened. She forced herself to concentrate on directing her power to flow with his. His magic touched her gently and carefully, not with the rush of their youthful experiment. It sought what she would channel to him, rather than demanding all.
She got another surprise as she let her power follow his lead in deflecting the worst ferocity of the storm. He wasn’t shielding just themselves or the house. He protected the entire island.
“Take the lightning and help me with the wind when you can,” he said.
Ilene didn’t answer, but he’d feel her nod. He’d know it when she scanned for the polarizing fields that indicated impending lightning strikes in the area, just as she could feel him working with the air, confronting the extraordinary, essential ferocity of the tornado. He let her see he planned to divert it to a path that would carry it through the unpopulated north side of the island, up to an inlet and then out to sea. It would take an enormous expenditure of energy. A good thing she’d eaten as much as she had that morning.
The lightning strikes came often and viciously, almost all aimed at the house or nearby. The roar of the wind and rumble of thunder made a continual racket that shook the place and pounded at her ears. She struggled to maintain her concentration. It was harder to send her awareness farther away and to continually scan a wider area, but with a stretch of her power, she could do it. Each time she felt the charge building up anywhere on the island, she moved the field and guided the strike to an empty spot. Fortunately there was plenty of now-empty beach area to take the bulk of the discharges.
During the lulls between strikes, she gave Michael a boost in his attempt to redirect the tornado.
Their efforts probably took no more than ten minutes, fifteen at most, but it seemed like much longer to Ilene because every minute of it demanded her utmost concentration. She poured out power in quantities she’d rarely undertaken in the past. It was like running a long distance race for a person who’d trained mostly for sprints, do-able with an effort of will and an outpouring of adrenaline, but it sapped mind, body, and spirit.
As strong as he was, she sensed even Michael found it difficult to control the awesome power of wind moving so fast. They had one small advantage, though. Unlike the lightning, they weren’t fighting another mage for direction of it.
Someone had likely encouraged it to form by increasing the heat differential from ground to cloud and had given the winds’ speed a boost when they began to swirl. Once that was done, the vortex was nudged toward them and set free to do its damage on its own. At least they were only fighting the power of nature and not an opposing magical force as well.
Lightning quieted for a moment, letting her join her power to his. Together, they pushed at the wild, violent winds of the storm. It reminded her of her earlier effort with the gust that had propelled the handyman back into the room. Trying to guide a wind of that speed was like mounting a bucking bull. It rolled and bounced and threatened to suck up everything she gave it without any noticeable effect.
Working together, they redirected the winds. Ilene abruptly found herself riding that crazy, maddened bull of furious wind for a few short moments. She bobbed and rolled with it, part of it for a grand second or two, shoved one way, then another, somersaulting, rolling, clinging onto it for all she was worth.
As they pushed together, something new happened, something even more fantastic and wonderful and amazing than magic. Their power didn’t just join together into one flow this time. It blended. It became not two lines running side by side, but one solid, interlaced river of energy. In the process, it formed something far stronger and harder than just their two individual outflows of power.
Using that blended stream, Michael and Ilene rode the wind of the tornado together. They rolled with it, flew with it, and finally mastered it. She’d never done anything like it. Riding the roller coaster with her father when she was a child had offered a small, pale, weak foreshadowing of this. Skiing down Snowshoe Mountain on a college break only hinted at the glorious rush of speed and power.
And she shared it with Michael, sailing along beside him, joined with him as they flew.
It startled and thrilled her, but it couldn’t last long. It took too much energy out of both of them. With so much force available, though, it didn’t need much time. With just a few seconds of work, they turned the tornado to a path that would take it out to sea.



Karen McCullough said...

Thank you for posting my excerpt here!

Unknown said...

Wow, just, wow. Those two excerpts are really intriguing. This book just jumped neared the top of my books to buy list.

drainbamaged.gyzmo at

Karen McCullough said...

Thanks, Kathryn! I appreciate the kind words.

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